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On September 16, 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 361 (AB 361) into law which allows public agencies to continue to conduct meetings remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic and other proclaimed emergencies. AB 361 extends the suspension of certain requirements regarding the use of teleconferencing for meetings held under the Ralph M. Brown Act (Brown Act) and the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act. Although AB 361 was to take effect immediately as an urgency statute, the Governor issued Executive Order N-15-21 suspending the application of AB 361 until October 1, 2021. As a result, through September 30, 2021, public agencies may conduct remote meetings relying on the Governor’s previous Executive Orders (N‑25-20, N-29-20, and N-35-20) issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Generally, under the Brown Act local agencies that use teleconferencing for meetings are required to: (1) identify each teleconference location on the meeting agenda, (2) post the meeting agenda at each teleconference location, and (3) allow public access to each teleconference location. Additionally, the Brown Act requires that a quorum of members of the legislative body participate from locations within the local agency’s jurisdiction.
On March 4, 2020, Governor Newsom signed Executive Order No. N-29-20, declaring a state of emergency as a result of the threat of COVID-19 and suspending the general Brown Act requirements for teleconferencing. AB 361 allows public agencies to continue meet remotely during a proclaimed state of emergency through January 1, 2024, while mandating that such meetings continue to be publicly accessible.
Under AB 361, a public agency may hold a remote meeting if a proclaimed state of emergency is in effect and: (1) state or local officials have imposed or recommended measures to promote social distancing; (2) the public agency holds a meeting for the purpose of determining, by majority vote, whether as a result of the emergency, meeting in person would present imminent risks to the health or safety of attendees; or (3) the public agency holds a meeting and has previously determined by majority vote that as a result of the emergency, meeting in person would present imminent risks to the health or safety of attendees.
A public agency that holds a meeting using teleconferencing must give notice of the meeting and post agendas in compliance with the Brown Act, allow the public to access the meeting by phone or video, and provide an opportunity for the public to address the legislative body directly during the meeting.
In the event that the public’s ability to access the meeting or provide public comment is disrupted, the agency cannot take any action on items appearing on the agenda until public access to the meeting is restored. Additionally, depending on how the public agency provides for public comment, AB 361 contains various requirements to ensure public comment periods are not concluded prematurely.
Finally, AB 361 requires that local agencies reconsider the need for remote meetings, at least every thirty days, while a state of emergency remains active. In order to continue to utilize remote meetings, the local agency must find, by majority vote, that (1) the state of emergency continues to directly impact the agency’s ability to meet safely in person or (2) state or local officials continue to impose/recommend measures to promote social distancing.
If you have any questions about AB 361 or how it may affect your agency, please contact Alexis K. Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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